Planting Bulbs

Planting Bulbs

While there are many things I have posted on that can inspire others to garden, paint, research their favourite flower, just to name a few, one activity that much of the Northern Hemisphere has in common in the fall is planting spring flowering bulbs. My last post gave brief information on bulbs and their origin, leading to this more factual information on the steps to actually planting bulbs and corms.







Tulips are merely one of many bulbs, along with Hyacinths, Daffodils and Narcissus that are the most widely known bulbs. The structure of a bulb’s interior is composed of fleshy, modified leaf like layers, which would be easily visible if it was cut in half. Corms such as crocus and gladiolas may look similar to bulbs, but they are basically thick stem like tissue.

Whether you choose true bulbs or corms, be certain they are winter hardy.  Remember then, to provide the proper temperature for  vernalization to take place. Vernalization is derived from the Latin word vernus, or spring, and is the required exposure to cold winter weather which allows the plant to grow and flower. If you live in a warmer zone than an 8, where the temperature outside will not provide the required temp of 5-10 degrees Celsius (40-50 Fahrenheit), then forcing bulbs in your fridge is a good option. Instructions for this will follow those for gardeners who will be planting outside in the flower beds.

Bulbs can be planted almost until the ground freezes, but early to mid October planting allows time for the bulbs to settle before the cold winter starts. There are many things to consider when planning what and where to plant, but with a few basics, anyone can have lovely spring blooms!


planting info



Despite the deciduous trees having no leaves in the spring, shade from buildings and evergreen trees is still a factor to consider. With a shadier area in the front garden both at home and at the cottage, I was concerned about how this would impact the blooms there. After a bit of digging, into books, I found that bulbs labelled “early flowering” were the best for this situation. Really this classification of bulbs is not based on a specific family, genus or species, but the fact that they bloom and flower with less UV rays than other plants…hence the early designation. I other words, these bulbs, that require less UV are better suited to shadier areas.


Bulbs sleep all winter, blanketed in soil, until the temperature there has chilled them for approximately eight weeks below 10 degrees Celsius or 50  degrees Fahrenheit, long enough for their growth cycle to begin. This is an important factor to consider as with planting any annuals or perennials.

If your soil is sandy , like at the my cottage, any natural compost, peat moss, cocoa fibre  or organic aged manure  that can be worked into the soil  will help provide a more even moisture content  throughout the winter in to spring. If the soil is too dense, these additions can also break up the clumps that often prevent adequate drainage.

Basically you need to add anything natural that will help lock in moisture and provide nutrients. Adding clay soil to offset the sandy is good, or vice versa, but remember to ensure nutrient levels are high.

Organic matter, in addition to being a good additive for improved soil fertility, also provides food for earthworms and beneficial bacteria in the soil. These creatures break down the soli and its nutrients so they can be absorbed well by the forming bulb roots and all plants as they grow.


Certainly the better flowing nutrient laden soil is better for both spring and summer flowering bulbs. In addition to augmenting the soil itself, the addition of blood or bone meal, provides a boost to the bulbs themselves.  Approximately ¼ to ½ a teaspoon can be added to the hole around each planted bulb.

Blood meal as a dry powder made from animal blood that provides much needed nitrogen to the soil. In addition, spread on or slightly below the ground level, the scent is a deterrent to small animals such as rabbits and squirrels. Bone meal is crushed bone that provides higher amounts of phosphorus which is good for root growth, but it may in fact attract animals looking for bones.

A good soluable general fertilizer 10-10-10 can also be added to the soil and then watered or dug in again when the bulbs begin to shoot out of the earth.  This can be mixed with the blood or bone meal and should be in the soil down to below the level of the bulbs being planted.


Again, the sunny spots will probably produce the best blooms with early flowering bulbs the best selection for shadier areas. Evergreen trees will shade all year round but do help even out the soil temperatures close by, evening out extreme fluctuations that can damage bulbs. In addition, spring bulbs planted on a slope will tend to bloom earlier than bulbs in a dip or gulley as warm air rises and cold air tends to settle in lower areas.


Beyond the soil preparation, there are a few basics that can be prepared in advance. Collecting clean spades and trowels as well as blood/bone meal or other fertilizer helps cut down on the actual planting time. Also knowing the location to plant, whether it is in an existing garden or part of a new garden design, and proper spacing of all bulbs to be planted, is vital for enhanced garden design and good spring growth.


There are basically two methods of planting, both of which require the gardener to know the depth of planting. As a general rule of thumb the bulbs or corms are planted with the fine tip up and to a depth of approximately 3x the height of the bulb itself.  Checking the package or growing directions at the nursery will also help. Good gardening practise is also never to plant in even numbers as it seems odd number produce a more natural look.


1. Using a spade or small shovel, one large hole is dug at the required depth for the assortment of bulbs requiring that depth. Using a tape measure or judging by eye are the basic way of measuring the depth. Then a small bone /blood meal or natural fertilizer is spread lightly in the whole before placing bulbs.


grouping in one large hole


If space allows for any smaller bulbs/corms to be planted, once the bigger bulbs are partially buried, spread more nutrients and add those buds.


smaller bulbs above


2. This method is similar but uses a small trowel or a bulb planter. There are short handled manual bulb planters that require you to be on your hands and knees and many long handled versions where you stand and use your feet to force the tool in to the ground.


bulb planter






There are many of both types available at local garden centres, many of which have the depth scale right on the tool. Again, nutrient supplement is added to the whole once the soil is removed, before the bulbs are added.

larger bulbs in place

best individual holes

small bulbs indiv








After bulbs have received their nutritional supplement, been spaced properly in depth and between each other, soil is filled in around them. Then mulch on top will provide an extra measure of winter protection and keep the temperature and moisture levels more constant. Finally a thorough watering will ensure the ground there has adequate moisture for the  bulbs to get started once there is a spring thaw.


If you can purchase at garden centres or by the Internet, spring bulbs that require vernalization, never fear as your fridge is near! There are many articles on what is called forcing bulbs and sometime the misconception that they have to actually be frozen.

Basically the easy version is as follows:

-good soil

-pot 13-18 cm deep  ( 6-9 inches)

– few inches of soil in bottom so bulb is ad required depth

-add bulb and cover well (with nutrients to be watered in later)

-water thoroughly

-put in a plastic bag with one end open for ventilation

-place in the back of the fridge

-check on it every week to ensure it does not get too dry

-after approximately 6-8 weeks  there should be small shoots

-bring out of fridge in to partially lit room for a few days

-water with fertilizer and then bring to a brightly lit room or window ledge


Final thoughts

Remember, while many things seem to go wrong, bulbs are very forgiviing. In fact, once I planted my bulbs upside down and although it took some extra time, they did bloom. Only when I thinned them out a few years later, did I realize the pointed tip was facing down!  🙂  Happy planting!

Holland  Commercial Tulip Farming

Holland Commercial Tulip Farming


Bulb Beginnings

Fall is a wonderfully time of year to enjoy your garden and for bulb beginnings! Not only are flowers still in bloom without the heat of the hot summer sun, but here in Ontario Canada we enjoy the colourful changing of the tree leaves. Certainly the marvelous Maple shows its yellow, orange and red leaves as the last stage of the life of a leaf. Sumac trees and shrubbery radiate red in their long finger like leaves as does the burning bush ( aka Winged Euonymous alata)


Burning Bush



From trees to small garden perennials, the leaves that are leaving us…do so in a blaze of glory. Even some annuals show off their foliage as I witness first hand at my cottage this past weekend. In fact, intent on cleaning up the garden and cutting down the bare stalks of cone-flowers and other garden favourites, I headed out with spade in hand.


Bulb beginnings

Like many a fall or autumn day, the weather gave up another bright sunny day and the plants untimely death was postponed. Not only could I not bring myself to trim things back as cottage season comes to a close, but I finally  prepared to plant the most widely planted fall perennial… spring flowering bulbs , purchased several weeks ago.


Bulbs bust out of the garden along the sunny side garden in mass. Even the front garden has its share of purple, white and a few red tulips. Several years ago I planted white, pink and purple Hyacinths along the darker side of the house there and each year since they have burst in to wonderful bloom. Today I planted White Narcissus and purple Grape hyacinth spring bulbs whose proper name is Muscari.


With each bulb planted, I began to wonder where they originated and what family they were from. Basic research revealed that a vast number of bulbs such as tulips and crocus actually originated in Turkey before they were moved and in some cases stolen. Often research and exploration led to removal and relocation in some cases leading to extinction in the natural habitats.


Spring flowering Tulips


I was surprised to read that Turkey had areas stripped of bulbous plants, and that tulips were not all from Holland originally. Certainly as usual this fact led me to  dig deeper in to the origins of two of the more commonly found spring flowering bulbs.



There are many spring flowering bulbs that are planted in the fall, but probably one of the most recognized is the Tulip. Tulips belong to the Liliaceae Family, Genus Tulipa, and have at least 109 species. They are found in Turkey and are indigenous to mountainous areas there as well as in central Asian countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, specifically the Pamir Mountains.

Under the Ottoman Empire, which was founded in Turkey approximately 1299, commercial cultivation of the flower began. Approximately when the empire reached its peak at 1590 covering parts of Asia, Europe and Africa, tulips began to arrive in northwestern Europe. There is some confusion as to who introduced them to European but it was definitely politically connected and took place approximately 1559.

By 1573 tulips were seen planted in Vienna in several garden, eventually via private gardens the bulbs made it to the Netherlands officially in 1594.  For many years the bulbs were cultivated but on such a small scale that eventually they became highly coveted and a Tulip Mania began. This mania peaked 1636-37 when bulb trading costs were reportedly higher than a tradesman’s yearly salary! Despite the high prices, tulips changed hands rapidly, until the trade ground to a halt and commercial cultivation on large scale began.



Holland Commercial Tulip Farming


Crocus, another widely popular spring flowering perennial flower actually grows from corms. From the Iridaceae ( Lily) Family, genus Croci with 80 species, these flowering plants are native to woodland, scrub and meadows in Central and Southern Europe. They are also native to, North Africa and the Middle East, on the islands of the Aegean, and across Central Asia to western China. Like the tulip, crocuses were also native to areas of Turkey.

Cultivation and harvesting of crocus was first documented in the Mediterranean, notably on the island of Crete. The first crocus seen in the Netherlands, where crocus species are not native, were from corms brought back in the 1560’s from Constantinople by the Holy Roman Emperor’s ambassador and by 1620, new garden varieties had been developed. Slowly from there commercial cultivation began and these plants also spread across the world.






Bulbs and Corms present day

Thankfully with hybridization, research and mass growing fields bulbs of most types are economically priced.  Worldwide gardeners can certainly enjoy the blooms of perennial bulbs, whether they are spring blooming such as those in Canada and the United States.

For those of you who live in tropical areas or those who are above Zone 9 or who do not have the required temperatures of approximately 0-4 degrees C, tulips and many other spring bulbs would have to be forced in the refrigerator.  Of course, if your country has a mountainous region, such as Turkey, where most of the tulips, crocus and other spring bulbs originated, naturalized planting and garden planting may both be possible.

While there are a great many things to consider when planting bulbs, even the new garden can successfully plant for a wonderful spring bloom filled garden. As with most plants, the sun, soil and nutrients are all factors to be considered and knowing your garden’s details will help you when purchasing individual bulbs at local garden centres.  Certainly the staff there will be happy to assist you if the information on each bulb display does not have all the information you need.

Even local supermarkets often sell packages of bulbs in their florist area or even within the produce section. Usually there is printed information on these packages stating planting depth, light requirements, planting depth and plant height when in bloom.


My next article will cover all the basic information any gardener would need to plant these lovely perennials. In addition I  would be happy to answer any questions left for me under Comments.

Before long, armed with your trusty garden tools , helpful information and enthusiasm, your hard work will be rewarded in the Spring, with an inspirational  flowering garden to be proud of!

Purple and double pink tulips